University of Antwerp faces criticism over treatment of cleaning staff
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University of Antwerp faces criticism over treatment of cleaning staff

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The University of Antwerp is facing criticism after accepting a new four-year agreement with the company that manages its cleaning staff which lowers the number of hours employees work.

The intent is to eliminate “inefficiencies” and allow the university to save 18% on costs.

Hundreds of university employees have signed a petition protesting the move, reports De Standaard. They’re calling for the university to revoke the new contract with the cleaning company, ISS, and discuss whether or not the cleaning staff can be “insourced,” or hired directly by the university itself.

“Through these savings, the university is pushing these people towards poverty,” said Dominique Kiekens from the committee that organised the petition.

Some of the cleaning staff stand to use hundreds of euros a month in the restructuring of the contract, according to ABVV union secretary Joke Dupont.

The University of Antwerp defended their actions in an email to university staff this morning.

“The cleaning employees will each be working 20% fewer hours than before, but if they want to, they can pick up extra hours at other ISS customers in and around Antwerp to compensate,” said the email.

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They admitted that this could take several months, especially because of the coronavirus pandemic, but added that “thanks to the social fund for cleaning, the net wage loss is compensated by a seniority bonus of up to one year. ISS will also offer its cleaners the opportunity to retrain as receptionists or kitchen staff, for example.”

The previous contract with ISS expired in 2020 and a competitive bidding process began, as is the standard procedure, with ISS winning it again.

“The cleaning company submitted a quote that was substantially lower than the previous contract, which will save the university 1.1 million euros a year. The company can now clean the buildings more efficiently by using new machines and introducing new technologies, among other things. A comparison has revealed that even with this new contract, UAntwerp still spends more on cleaning per square metre than UGent and KU Leuven,” the email explained.

University spokesperson Peter De Meyer said the university needs to look for savings because costs are rising but the funding they receive has not been indexed.

ABVV secretary Dupont doubts the lost hours can simply be made up elsewhere, and argues that the cost of savings shouldn’t be borne by vulnerable and low-paid cleaning staff.

The board of the University of Antwerp will meet with representatives of the committee that started the protest petition early next week.

The Brussels Times